Simon Liddiment and Lawrence Weiner: COVERED BY CLOUDS | Review

Project/Number  |  11 – 26 May 2013

Simon Liddiment’s reconfiguration of his work Threshold (FALLOW), 2005/13 rejects the converted shopfront gallery space of Project/Number, instead burrowing itself into the basement below. The shop’s floorboards are cut away, with only a narrow edge left from which the viewer can look down into the space below. Once you have picked up the courage to manoeuvre yourself around the gaping void, the word FALLOW, written in thick white road signage paint across the brightly lit concrete floor below reveals itself.

Liddiment’s installation is the outcome of his invitation to respond to Lawrence Weiner’s light box commission, COVERED BY CLOUDS, which was produced locally under the exacting instructions of Weiner’s New York studio and installed above the entrance to the gallery. The simple, unassuming light box carries the words of its title diagonally across its face, in Weiner’s trademark blocky, utilitarian font. He once commented that, ‘Every artist’s work has a title. Titles are my work.’ Despite there being two artists’ works on display, it is Weiner’s that steals the title of the exhibition. For the visitor, Liddiment’s contribution is both prefaced and footnoted, physically, visually and conceptually, by Weiner’s.

This tension between the two artists is further entrenched by their distinct employment of words in sculptural form, each utilising different models of public-facing signage. There is an incompatibility between the minimalist, functional materiality of the works and their referential language. Inevitably, the viewer attempts to find a connection between of the words FALLOW and COVERED BY CLOUDS; the use of words alone is reason to assume there is some connection. Yet the meanings of the words, other than to invoke a poetic awareness of the activity of earthy spatiality, give little away as to their relationship, and this ambiguity only produces new questions and doubts.

Many of us are familiar with Weiner’s word works, written to resemble sentences or statements, yet there is always something more, something unspoken between the juxtaposed words; an alterative reading, at once empirical and experiential. His book, Statements, 1968, a cornerstone of his work with words and considered a seminal conceptual artist’s book, consisted of a series of performative actions in the forms of words. However, as Weiner himself acknowledged, the instructing sentences written on the pages usurped the performance that is described; the language proved to be primary and the event, realisable in an infinite variety of forms, contingent. Weiner’s practice is founded on his belief that art’s conception and reception cannot avoid the filtration of ideation and language; his approach therefore is to produce the content (the words) that can be used by it’s receiver, deliberately left open to translation, transference and transformation. Each time the work is exhibited it will be used differently; with language ‘there is always an incomplete relationship to objects’. Weiner nevertheless proclaimed that content rather than context should be the crux of an artwork; for P/N/12 this negotiation between content and context extends through to Liddiment’s work.

Liddiment, acutely aware of Weiner’s approach to words, uses his work to push the experience of text to the extreme. The physical relationship between the two artists’ works create a deliberate spatial tension, inspiring in the viewer questions not of content but of experiential context. Rejecting the dematerialisation of art, Weiner has always asserted that everything, including a word, is an object. He defined art as ‘the relationship of human beings to objects and objects to objects in relation to human beings’. His continual visual rehashing of this relationship between text, as an object, its surroundings and its audience, is ever more evident in its influence on Liddiment’s reconfiguration of his own work.

In its original form, at Liddiment’s untitled solo show at Norwich’s Outpost in 2005, Threshold traversed the gallery into the foyer, its heavily embossed, industrial lettering propping open doors and tripping visitors along its way. Here, however, the bold typeface seems torn between its assertive genesis and a somewhat apologetic gesture – distancing itself as far as possible from Weiner’s commission, and awkwardly concealing its length from the viewer. However, while Weiner’s COVERED BY CLOUDS light box sits quietly above the door, Liddiment transformation of the entire basement into a giant light box could be seen as attention-seeking taken to an extreme. The narrow gangway around the edge and the concealed extremities of the word, FALLOW, force the audience to perform for the work – shuffling, craning necks – torn between safety and curiosity. Among the familiar, generic backlit signs of the off-licences and kebab shops of Stoke Newington High Street, this performativity extends into the street; the gallery itself becomes an intervention in the parade of shops, enlisting its surroundings into the contextual narrative of the work. The two works entangle their questioning and probing of interpretation of materiality, spatiality and language combined.

In 1968, Lawrence Weiner formulated his frequently quoted Declaration of Intent: 1, The artist may construct the piece. 2, The piece may be fabricated. 3, The piece need not be built. Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist, the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.

COVERED BY CLOUDS methodically follows all three of these rubrics; Liddiment’s construction, Weiner’s fabrication and the unspoken dialogue between the two. The concluding line of Weiner’s succinct manifesto, however, is what ultimately binds the two works together in the space; their relationship to one another ­– each work’s history seeping into the other – and their subsequent relationship to the viewer, the passerby and the street outside.